7 Ways You Can Help a Dog in Need

Want to help a dog in need but don't know how much of a commitment you can make? Here are seven ways — ranging from the biggest commitment to the simplest — that you can make a difference to a homeless dog.

1. Adopt, Don't Shop

One of the most direct ways to help a dog in need is to adopt your next family pet from a rescue group or shelter. According to the Humane Society of the United States, unless a pet store is sourcing puppies from local shelters, most stores sell puppies that come from puppy mills, where dogs are often kept in inhumane conditions. Buying from stores or internet sites supports these mills.

If you're new to having a dog, be sure to research breed characteristics or ask the shelter staff about the dog's personality so you can find a good fit for your lifestyle. If there's a specific breed you want, try typing the breed name and "rescue" into a search and see if there's a rescue group near you or one willing to transport. Or type a breed into Petfinder.com and see what happens. That's how we ended up with our girl, Rita. I typed in "beagle" . . . and her little beagle-shepherd mix face popped up. We couldn't resist her!

And, if you already have an adopted pet, be sure to tell everyone how rewarding rescuing is.

2. Consider Fostering

Fostering a pup in your home can be a huge help for the shelter since it frees up space to make room for another adoptable dog. It also helps the shelter learn what the dog's personality is like so they can eventually find the perfect forever home. At the shelter where I volunteer, they often need people to foster puppies who are too young to be adopted out. Think of it . . . you could get a puppy fix without the hassle of going through the teething phase!

3. Give Your Time

If you have the time in your schedule, consider volunteering once a week. I do this myself and some days I'm busy or just plain cranky and I don't feel like going – but I'm always glad once I go. It's very rewarding to spend time giving adoptable dogs the love and exercise they need.

4. Give Your Special Skills

If you don't have time to volunteer regularly, consider volunteering your special skills on an as-needed basis. For example, if you're a great photographer, offer to stop by and take photos of dogs who've been up for adoption for a long time. Sometimes a great photo can be a huge boost in getting a dog noticed. Or look into special events your nearby shelter holds – maybe you can volunteer your public relations skills for their annual gala, or help with organizing a 5K walk. Helping out doesn't always have to require a huge, on-going time commitment.

5. Give Money

Writing a check – what's easier than that? Especially consider donating to local shelters. (Note that "humane society" and "SPCA" are generic terms, so local shelters using those terms are not necessarily part of the ASPCA or the Humane Society of the United States. Don't expect that donating money to the larger national organizations will trickle down to help the dogs in your 'hood.) One thing I enjoy is donating to the shelter where we got Rita, and then interacting with them on their Facebook page. It's a lot of fun to see the pictures and videos they post and feel like you're making a difference in some specific dogs' lives.

However, I know there are lots of demands on your checkbook, so . . .

6. Give Your Old Stuff!

If time and money are both tight, you can still help a dog in need by cleaning out your linen closet. Most shelters are in constant need of towels and bedding for the animals, so dig out all those old blankets, sheets, towels and throw rugs. That towel with the bleach stain that's too funky even to donate to Goodwill is fine for pups and kitties to sleep on! Often shelters need other items you may not have thought of such as toys, paper towels, hand sanitizer, or plastic kiddie pools for the dogs to play in. Or you can check if your local shelter would like to have your gently used technology when you upgrade – printers, flash drives, cameras, etcetera are often a very welcome donation.

There's one last easy-peasy way to help:

7. There's an App For That!

Did you know there are apps for your smart phone that can help animals in need? For example, Cruelty Cutter from The Beagle Freedom Project lets you scan a barcode on an item you want to purchase and see if it was tested on animals. There are also free apps that let you help raise money for shelters just by getting out and walking — check out the ResQwalk or Walk for a Dog apps.

There you have it — a "lucky seven" of ways to help a dog in need. And I'm sure that any dog you help will feel lucky indeed.

Jackie Bouchard is the USA Today bestselling author of House Trained. She writes what she calls Fido-friendly fiction: humorous and heartwarming stories about women and the dogs that profoundly impact their lives. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.